Companies must help raise birth ratesLately, the JoongAng Ilbo has made the low fertility rate a national agenda and been actively reporting on the issue, promoting the campaign along with the National Assembly.
Until now, the government and politicians paid little attention to the issue as it is not directly related to obtaining votes. While about 150 trillion won ($135 billion) was used over the past 10 years to address the problem, the total fertility rate actually went down. Korean and foreign experts agree that inconsistent policies cannot boost the birth rate.
Moreover, the plan that was implemented last year focuses on childcare and late marriages. But a Korea-Japan joint opinion poll shows that 55.6 percent of Koreans in their 20s to 40s responded that they feel it is okay not to get married, and 72.1 percent of female respondents expressed passive or negative attitudes towards marriage. So it is wrongheaded for the government to give incentives to young people to get married earlier and boost the fertility rate, as this fails to grasp the reality of the situation.
Firstly, leading companies like Samsung, Hyundai Motors, LG and SK need to actively address the issue and seek initiatives that will suit each company by managing internal total fertility rates.
They can promote a more flexible corporate culture, modeling it after American companies like Google and implementing family-friendly policies for employees to maintain a better work-life balance. By better accommodating parenthood and childcare, they can encourage other companies to follow suit.
We need to change our mindset. We need to note the fact that the total fertility rate of France and Northern European countries is nearly 2.0 while the marriage rate is only around 30 percent.
In Northern European nations like the Netherlands, not just official marriages but also domestic partnerships are common family forms, and children born to single parents or unmarried couples are also provided with childcare support by society or the government.
While Korean culture is not yet open to such unions, we need to face the reality and actively embrace change. Moreover, a major change in immigration policy can increase the foreign population, and we need to seriously consider establishing an agency to oversee population issues, as exists in Japan.
Considering all this, boosting the low fertility rate is the most urgent task of our time, one that will determine whether we leave a lethargic country to the next generation or an energetic and sustainable one. Companies need to act, and the campaign to encourage more births should become a national movement.
Kim Jong-hoon, co-president of the Family Friendly Forum and the chairman of Hanmi Global